The forces of Western imperialism, unleashed over a lengthy period of time,
created conditions of extreme social stress in China, Mexico, and Iran in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries by severely disrupting the fundamental elements
of their culture and economy. In the process, large segments of the population were
uprooted and displaced. Ancient and sacred communal lands were seized, and entire
indigenous communities were broken up. Western ways, perceived as corrupt, were
injected into the prevailing moral and cultural order.
Social stress was manifested in widespread frustration, bitterness, and humiliation, and ultimately provoked a sense of moral outrage and indignation among the
peoples of these societies. The catastrophic effects of Western intrusion were
far-reaching and significant. Cultural imperialism and foreign economic control
were profoundly destructive of the well being and, from their perspective, the
potential cultural and political survival of a deeply ethnocentric and once great
An important mechanism available to the peoples of China, Indian Mexico, and Iran that would provide them with the potential to cope with such stress and to
eventually revitalize and reintegrate into newer forms of social organization was a
pervasive and durable tradition of millenarian beliefs. It is to this aspect of our study
that we now turn our attention.
For a comprehensive study of the forces that engendered economic competition among
the great powers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875-1914 ( New York: Pantheon, 1987).
Although I have focused on the economic sources of the competition for empire at the
turn of the century, one should not ignore the equally important influence of nationalism.
All of the great powers were motivated by the largely undisciplined forces of national identity
and national pride, and the pursuit of national self-fulfillment and power. These motivations
were equally important in creating a highly competitive international system. Cf. Dudley
Seers, The Political Economy of Nationalism ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1983)
and Anthony D. Smith, Nationalism in the
Twentieth Century ( New York: New York
University Press, 1979).
John King Fairbank, China: A New History ( Cambridge: Harvard Belknap Press, 1992), 18.
Jean Chesneaux, Peasant Revolts in China: 1840-1949 ( London: Thames and Hudson
Ltd., 1973), 10.
Robert Haskett, Indigenous Rulers: An Ethnohistory of Town Government in Colonial
Cuernavaca ( Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991),4-5, 196-202; see also
idem, "Indian Town Government in Colonial Cuernavaca: Persistence, Adaptation, and
Change" Hispanic American Historical Review 67: 2 ( May 1987): 203, 207, 218-19, 224, 231.
Keddie, Roots of Revolution25.